Relationship friction is as common as relationships. There is just no way to keep everything smooth all the time. Whether you interact with your partner, your boss, your colleagues, your kids or (ahem) your parents, there is bound to be some points when things feel a bit rough, faces turn redder, voices become sharper and all involved wonder what went wrong.
This happens very often between parents and teenagers. Considering what you are about to read, this is not too surprising, actually.
You see, every conversation we have takes place in the words we say, in the feelings we feel and in how we relate facts and feelings to the way we see ourselves. We all have a sense of identity and sometimes, when we feel our identity is being threatened, we go to “battle stations”, batten down the hatches and defend ourselves with all our might.
The teenage years are all about forming our independent identity, which means our identity is still very new and fragile and every possible comment could have a shattering effect on it and then what?
Luckily, there are just 3 common self-beliefs that can be threatened and if we avoid them, much of the friction in our communication with others, particularly with teens, can be eliminated. In fact, we can do a lot of good as parents, partners and friends by saying and doing things to strengthen others’ positive beliefs about who they are.
The best way to experience what others may be going through when you talk to them is to look at it from the receiving end. This will also allow you to deal better with potential threats to your identity that would result in your retaliatory action against others. Relationships, after all, are as much about us as they are about them.
Am I competent?
We all want to feel capable – knowledgeable enough, strong enough, quick enough, smart enough, sensitive enough, elegant enough and reliable enough. We love succeeding and try to gather as much success as we can in life to feel capable. We hate failure and try to avoid it like the plague not to feel incapable.
But somewhere along the way, we develop a basic belief that we are either capable or incapable, worthy or worthless, smart or dumb, strong or weak, and we spend the rest of our life defending that belief (if it is good) or running away from it (if it is bad).
For example, if we perceive ourselves as good with technology, we treat any difficulties as interesting challenges that only develop our skills further and any success as proof of how good we are with technology. On the other hand, if we believe we are no good with technology, even the slightest glitch will make us give up and run screaming out of the room and no success in the world can convince us we are any good with technology.
To someone who is confident in a particular area, a mistake is a learning opportunity and anyone who points it out is being helpful. To someone who is not confident, a mistake is evidence of their incompetence and anyone who points it out is an enemy.
Under the age of 5, kids have no problems with failure. They will try again and again and again and again until they succeed or something else stops them. After that, frustration gradually gets in the way until they become teenagers. Teens will not even try something that looks too difficult to begin with. They already have a sense of what they are capable of. They say, “Oh, I’m not good at this”.
So when you want to talk to others about doing things differently, consider what this might do to their sense of identity and tread carefully. Instead of saying, “Look, you’ve made a mistake here”, try, “This is really great. I’d make this heading a little larger, but you’ve done good work”.
And when someone tells you they have found something that needs correcting in your work, stop for a second, take a deep breath, remember how happy they are with most of what you do and relax. Nobody is saying anything bad about you.
You are competent.
Am I a good person?
Another thing we all want to feel is that we are good – kind, nice, considerate, accommodating and accepting. We keep off the grass, we donate to charity, we speak politely, we take our plate off the table, we take the garbage out, we watch the kids while our partner goes out with the guys/girls and do many other friendly, social things that strengthen our feeling that we are good.
A common thing that makes me cringe when I see other parents with their kids is statements like, “You naughty boy” and “What have you done, you horrible girl?” Hearing enough of these from their parents, kids develop the identity of a bad person, someone who is inherently naughty or horrible and nothing they will do will ever change that.
In the book “I’m OK, you’re OK”, an adult interacts from the position that they are OK (good) and so is everybody else. Those who are “not OK” and see others as “not OK” are psychopaths. From their point of view, no matter what they do, this is just who they are and the others deserve it.
Interestingly, the position “I’m OK, you’re not OK” is called “parent” and the position “I’m not OK, you’re OK” is called “child”. In a child’s life, parents know everything, are in charge of all the resources and are responsible for guiding the child through the maze of life. That is why children feel the need to confirm many decisions with their parents.
But when a person is stuck in the “child” position, every time someone feels bad in their presence, they go into a tailspin, because it “must be” because of them and it proves just how bad they are.
And when a person is stuck in the “parent” position, the world becomes a disappointing place, in which nobody ever does anything right, proving again and again that the only good person in the world is me and everyone else is just not.
So if you find disagreement hard to bear and get upset when others feel hurt in your presence, this could be related to how your parents labeled you when you were little. Stop for a second, take a deep breath, put things in perspective and relax. Sometimes, people have different views from you, but you are still a good person. Agreeing with everyone is unrealistic and you do your best to get along most of the time. You are a good person.
Also, good people are sometimes tired, hungry, overworked, hurt and frustrated. Having any of these feelings is not bad, it is human, and the feelings eventually go away. You know what is in your heart and it is good even when other people may not see it. You are a good person.
And if you always feel OK, consider others may be a bit sensitive in this area and make sure you tell them they are OK, no matter what happens. This is particularly helpful with your kids and teens, because it will help them develop a stronger identity and enjoy life to the max.
Am I lovable?
Even when our kids are babies and all we want to do is hold them, we sometimes have to put them down. Sometimes, they cry when we are in the shower and we cannot come right away. As kids grow up, we spend less and less time with them and encourage them to do more and more on their own.
This is all fine and natural, but from the child’s perspective, it may seem that “Mommy doesn’t love me” or “Daddy doesn’t want me” (ask any child after a divorce). Children are self-centered and are not aware of many things the adults in their life have to deal with. Their only point of reference is therefore how lovable (worthy or deserving of love) they are.
What happens when you need someone’s help, time or attention and they tell you they are busy right now. Does that spell rejection for you? Do you wonder whether you are important enough to the other person? Do you question how much they value, appreciate or love you?
That jump is likely due to an un-lovable identity. After all, they may turn around and help you 5 minutes later, just as they did yesterday and just as they may have done hundreds of times before.
Love can be a tricky thing to feel, because there are 5 ways to give and receive love. In one of Ronit’s workshops, a 60-year-old woman started crying after learning about love languages. Her own love language was Quality Time and she had spent all her life feeling unloved by her mother, until she learned about Services and realized her mother had shown her love all her life, often many times a day.
So when a statement or a behavior makes you feel rejected, unappreciated, ignored or abandoned, stop for a second, take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture and relax. Other people will always have different priorities, but then again, you do what is important to you too. Others want time and space to think, work or focus on their art, but then again, so do you sometimes. If you put pressure on them, they may push you away, but only temporarily. Do something else in the meantime. They may actually appreciate you for that and they will come back, because you are lovable, you are valuable and you do deserve to be loved.
When you deal with your kids, remember to teach them all the love languages by saying, “I love spending time with you”, “I bought this for you, because I love you”, “Here is a special love sandwich I made you for lunch”, “I’m giving you a big cuddle, because I love you” and “I wrote you a note to remind you how much I love you”.
When you are busy or upset with your kids, say, “I want to help you, sweetie, and I’m busy right now. Please wait a few minutes and I’ll come”, “I love you very much, but homework is homework” or “Daddy is upset with you for throwing your toys, but Daddy still loves you very much, now put the toys back, please”. This way, your kids will develop a strong belief that they are lovable no matter what happens and their life will be much happier.
Finally, when you talk to other people, remember they may be sensitive to the way you respond to them and make a point to separate your feeling towards them and your overall relationship with them from what your opinion or decision in a specific matter, as in, “I like you and this is not something I’m willing to do” or “You are very important to me, I know this is making you uncomfortable and I hope you will be able to handle it”.
So before we say goodbye, thank you for spending your time here and I am sure you will be able to put what you have read to good use.